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Toughness, Atmosphere Spark Nittany Lions to Victory

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By Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Off the mat distractions can derail even the best teams and wrestlers. Hosting the much anticipated dual meet against the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in a sold out Bryce Jordan Center could have provided enough fanfare for the Nittany Lions to get caught up in. 

Penn State stayed focused and more importantly tough, as they earned a hard fought 24-14 victory. With another win against a very tough opponent, head coach Cael Sanderson was pleased with the effort from his team.

"I think overall, we wrestled well. That's a tough team and a tough team to score points on," said head coach Cael Sanderson. "Every win was big. Bo [Nickal]'s win was big. Matt [McCutcheon]'s win was big. We needed bonus points from Zain [Retherford] and also Nolf and they went out there and got that done. We needed bonus points from McIntosh and he got that done."

The biggest difference in the Nittany Lions keeping their record unblemished was not only wrestling hard for the full seven minutes, but wrestling an aggressive style as well.  

"Every one of our guys are wrestling through and using every second, so I am happy with the way they are wrestling and when you are wrestling and taking more shots, you get better faster," said Sanderson. "It's just the way it works. If you take 20 shots a match, you are going to get a lot better than if you take two. If you do that every day and do that in practice every day, it will change the way you compete."  

With so many tough matches throughout the night, the aggressive style that the Nittany Lions wrestled with proved to be a big factor in pulling out some of the wins. For Bo Nickal, who used a big third period that included two takedowns and four near fall points, his mindset never waivered from the aggressive style. 

"Well I don't think that how our coaches coach us to wrestle and how we like to wrestle as a team has anything to do with being passive," said Nickal. "Going through my head, I was just thinking like wrestle and keep doing how I do everyday in the practice room and stuff. I don't think that any of us like to keep it close or back up and do anything like that so, we just wrestle how we do everyday."

The match that Sanderson believes was one of the biggest was the second bout of the dual, as Jordan Conaway's win pulled the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes even at three team points apiece.

"That was a big match obviously if you are looking at the match by match," said Sanderson. "If we don't win that match, it gets a lot tougher to win the dual. [Conaway] did a great job and all of our guys wrestled hard. They move forward and they try and score points. They do it because they love it and want to be the best that they can be." 

The match did not start in Conaway's favor, as the senior faced an early 4-0 deficit. Not panicking, Conaway was able to keep wrestling and turn the momentum in his favor.

"That was huge because those four points were real early and it looked like Jordan was going to have a hard time getting off the bottom, so things weren't looking real good," said Sanderson. "DiJulius is real tricky obviously and very good at what he does, but Jordan is a fighter and he's going to keep wrestling the whole time."

Playing a big factor in Conaway's eventual 8-4 decision as well as other matches was the conditioning of the Nittany Lions. Buckeye wrestlers were visibly tired at the end of matches, which is something Sanderson and the team pride themselves on. 

"We are confident in our conditioning," said Sanderson. "We think these guys can wrestle, keep wrestling and score points and I think that's more of an attitude and conditioning comes along with that attitude because you have to wrestle like that in practice every day. Conditioning will always be a factor for us."

Matt McCutcheon, who returned for the first time since being injured at Illinois two weeks ago, had extra motivation for this match. Last season, McCutcheon fell to Kenny Courts at Nationals in sudden victory fashion. Riding out Courts for most of the match, the sophomore was able to revenge his loss and made his postgame interview that much sweeter. 

"It means a lot. Last year, I thought about that match for a long time and this one was important to me, so coming back, it was pretty important to get back," said McCutcheon. You have your team going out there scoring points, it makes you want to go out there and score points, so it was pretty important to get back for this match." 

Wrestling for the second time this season across the street at the Bryce Jordan Center, the atmosphere was as electric as any of the wrestlers have seen before. Packing in the sold out arena with 15,983 fans, Sanderson believes that is a testament to the wrestling style his team wrestles with, which makes it exciting to watch and keeps the fans coming back.

"I think our guys are doing a good job of really wrestling aggressively, so they are fun to watch," said Sanderson. "They are good kids and humble kids. Win or lose, they are going to be the same. They want to win, but they are going to fight to win."

Not only are the fans loud and passionate, the supporters are knowledgeable and have a real sense of what is going on. McCutcheon believes that the Nittany Lion supporters are the best fans in the country, which makes wrestling at Penn State so special. McCutcheon cites how the fans appreciate the effort level and even if the results don't go in their favor, the crowd is still supportive. Sanderson also recognizes the passion and support that surrounds his team, as getting stuck in traffic trying to get to the match made him realize the swarms of people that came out to support his squad.

"Pennsylvania wrestling is huge at all levels, at the youth level, at the high school level and at the collegiate level," said Sanderson. "The fans know what they are looking at and they love good wrestling. I think we want to make Pa. proud."

VIDEO: Wrestling Highlights and Interviews vs. Ohio State (2/5/16)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Nearly 16,000 fans packed the Bryce Jordan Center on Friday evening to watch the top-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team (13-0, 8-0 Big Ten) power past No. 3 Ohio State (9-3, 6-2) by a scored of 24-14.

The Nittany Lions claimed victories in six of the 10 matches, including a pin from No. 1 Zain Retherford (149 pounds), a technical fall from Morgan McIntosh (197 pounds), a major decision from No. 1 Jason Nolf (157 pounds) and a come-from-behind victory from No. 5 Jordan Conaway (133 pounds).

After the Buckeyes scored a tight win in the opening bout, Conaway stromed from 4-0 down for an 8-4 decision at 133 pounds. The Nittany Lions won three of the next four bouts and never looked back from there.

Watch highlights from the buzzing atmosphere inside the sold out BJC and head into the media room for remarks from head coach Cael Sanderson, Conaway, Nolf and Matt McCutcheon.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Competitiveness Helps Rasheed Step Up at 165

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11662692.jpegBy Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For a team as talented as the No. 1 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions, competition can be found throughout the entire roster. Arguably the most competitive weight on the team is the battle at 165 between Shakur Rasheed and Geno Morelli.

Throughout the season, Rasheed and Morelli have battled back and forth to crack the 165 starting spot. While the constant competition could create some tension and hostility between the two, they both have a healthy relationship, no different than any other on the team.

"It doesn't matter who it is, we are all competitive. Just because me and [Morelli] are fighting for the same spot, there's no negativity towards that," said Rasheed. "That's part of this sport and mostly part of our program. We got four guys at the same weight class that can all be All-Americans. That's just the way it goes. That's what makes us who we are. We are friends."

Aside from their relationship, another reason why Rasheed says there is no hostility between the two is because of how competitive the entire team is. The intensity that is brewed everyday in practice is the reason, according to Rasheed, why Penn State is not like any other team. 

"No matter what weight you're at, we are all going to be competitive because that's what we do. That's why Penn State is so good. In here in this room, everything's a competition," said Rasheed. "Anytime I wrestle any of these guys, that's the way it's going to be. We go into practice and the best way to train is to train as if it's a match, as if it's real competition. We help each other, but we are competitive. Everyone in here are teammates at the end of the day."

Rasheed's freshman year has not gone according to his plan, as the New York product was hoping to have fewer losses at this point in the season, but is excited to keep improving his regime. This season has also brought a lot of lessons for the 17th-ranked wrestler, with the biggest one being trusting his coaches. Learning to trust the coaches is most beneficial when Rasheed finds himself in a rut, as it is very tempting to try and figure it out himself.

"I learned to always trust your coaches. No matter how hard it gets, they can help you and they will do what's best for you," said Rasheed. "That's something that I really picked up this year. Anytime I'm having a struggle with something, I know who to go to to help me out with whatever is going on with me."

Part of the roller coaster year for Rasheed has been his impressive performance against some of the nations best. Posting a 14-6 record and ranked No. 17, the freshman has been able to step up in the biggest moments. Wrestling against six ranked grapplers so far this season, the freshman has posted a 4-2 record, wit the most impressive and possibly shocking outcome by pinning Purdue's Chad Welch, who at the time was ranked No. 5.  

While having this early success against many of the best wrestlers in his weight class, Rasheed still knows there are always things to work on. One of the biggest areas that the freshman is looking to improve upon during the rest of the season is being comfortable at his weight.

"Just feeling better down at the weight. That's the biggest issue right now," said Rasheed. "Once that's gone, I'm not worried about anything. I'm 100 percent confident in my wrestling ability and all I have to go is get everything feeling good from when I'm at 165 and there's nothing to worry about."

For any athlete, being in a routine can be just as important as anything else they do throughout the week. For Rasheed this season, it has been tough at times to find that rhythm with the constant lineup shuffle. The freshman has been able to adapt, which is something that the Coram, N.Y., native says is part of the sport. This adaption is why Rasheed believes he is always ready for every match, whether he's in the lineup or not.

Attitude, according to Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson, is the biggest attribute that Rasheed brings to the team and is one of the reasons why he's been so successful this season.

"Generally when people are evenly matched, you go with the guy that you feel has the better attitude and I'm not saying that Geno has a bad attitude, but I just think Shakur is just a guy that will do anything you ask him to do and wants to win," said Sanderson.

This positive attitude comes from his roots, as Rasheed is the first person in his family to go away to college. Seeing where he came from and what some of the people back at home are doing, the freshman is just grateful to be here doing the right thing.

"From the people I see back home and what they are doing and then I see the position I am in now, I just have to feel blessed," said Rasheed. "Coaches always talk about gratitude and that's exactly what it's about. I'm just so grateful to be here and honestly that's just the way it is. Coming from where I was at to where I am now, it's a lot." 

VIDEO: This Week In Penn State Wrestling - Morgan McIntosh (2/2/16)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team (12-0, 7-0 Big Ten) returns to the Bryce Jordan Center for a sold out dual against defending national champion and No. 3-ranked Ohio State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) on Friday at 6 p.m.

GoPSUsports.com caught up with senior Morgan McIntosh this week to talk about his season to date. McIntosh is 20-0 on the season and ranked No. 1 at 197 pounds.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Retherford, Nolf Prove to be Lethal Combination in Penn State Lineup

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11655668.jpegBy Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - To say that Penn State has the best one-two punch in collegiate wrestling would be unfair for the two wrestlers in question, as deciding who would be one and who would be two might be even more difficult than trying to wrestle them.

Zain Retherford and Jason Nolf have been the two of the toughest matchups for opponents to wrestle in what is becoming an increasingly difficult Nittany Lion lineup. At 149 and 157, respectively, the pair mirrors each other on the mat, dazzling fans with their relentless and exciting styles. 

Nolf and Retherford have been virtually identical this season, as both are ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes while both posting undefeated records. The duo is ranked atop the team in pins and technical falls while mirroring the same, aggressive style.

Sunday's 35-7 blowout of the Wolverines marked the 10th time in 12 matches that both wrestlers tallied bonus point victories, providing the dagger that ends any teams hopes of defeating the Nittany Lions this season.

A rare sight for Nittany Lion fans, donning their white in Rec Hall, was seeing the at times untouchable wrestlers both get taken down by their opponents. Despite giving up the points, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson was excited to see their response after it and how they bounced back.

"Our guys generally wrestle pretty hard and their guys wrestle pretty hard. Zain gives up a takedown, but he just keeps wrestling. Nolf gave up a takedown, but he just keeps wrestling," said Sanderson. "That's what we want to see. There's seven minutes for a reason and we want to use every second of those seven minutes."

Retherford, who for the first time in the dual schedule, was taken down by an opponent as Michigan's Alec Pantaleo recorded a second period score. Being in an unfamiliar situation, Retherford stuck to his wrestling style and worked his way out from underneath Pantaleo to get back on his feet.

"Before a match, I'm thinking about if a guy takes me down, so what? Do the same stuff that I always do. Get up, get out on bottom, get back to your feet and go work where you want to work," said Retherford.  

The biggest key in Retherford's eventual pin of the sixth-ranked Wolverine was his hand fighting, something that the sophomore has been working on extensively this season. This is a new technique that Sanderson preaches to the whole team.

"I think that's something that we do as a program. We spend a lot of time hand fighting and hand fighting correctly, hand fighting with a purpose," said Sanderson.

Retherford has been Sanderson's prodigy with this technique and the coach's biggest amazement has been the willingness of the sophomore to try something new.

"Zain's one of the few guys that I've been coaching for a few years, but very few kids make those adjustments because they've had success up to this point and they are going to stick with what they are confident in and it's hard to make changes like that," said Sanderson. "Hand fighting, it is very rare, but that's how you see guys improve."

Hand fighting in the neutral position allows shots to the legs to open up, creating opportunities to score.

"It's the way they are using their hands to control the tie ups and create opportunities to score," said Sanderson. "Zain's doing that as well as anyone I've ever coached. Its fun to watch him wrestle."

This strategy is what allowed Retherford as his match got later and later, to open up the legs and allow him to accumulate four takedowns during the afternoon.

"I felt him and I can hear him breathing a little heavier as the period started winding down, so I'm like 'Just stay patient, keep doing what you are doing,'" said Retherford. "Eventually his legs opened up, so yea I think heavy hands definitely opens up your leg attacks, but you just can't just be all up top or else nothing's going to get done."

The two are competing at such a high level, as if they are more driven to outshine each other than just focusing on beating their opponents. This friendly rivalry has benefitted the team in the eyes of Sanderson and he thinks the team can feed off of their energy.

"I think they give each other confidence," said Sanderson. "I'm not sure if it's real common, but I'm sure that Nolf see's Zain going out there and wrestling very well and he thinks, 'well I'm going to do the same thing.' I don't know if they are trying to one-up each other or anything like that, but it's a friendly competition."

Besides feeding off the energy, the competition can allow for teaching moments, as wrestlers on the team can take notice to certain styles and tricks each are doing. Finally, Sanderson also believes that both Retherford and Nolf are serving as the perfect examples of the style that Penn State wants to wrestle at.

"You see that this is a pattern that works and it's working for Zain, so maybe I should give it a shot and wrestle the same way. And that's what we want. We want high school kids that want to wrestle and score points and make conditioning a factor," said Sanderson. "We want them watching our matches think that's where I want to go to school and that's how I want to wrestle or that's how I do wrestle. We should get the right kids that want to wrestle that certain way." 

VIDEO: Wrestling Highlights and Interviews vs. Michigan (1/31/16)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The top-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team (12-0, 7-0 Big Ten) marched past No. 10 Michigan (10-2, 5-1) by a count of 35-7 inside sold out and white-clad Rec Hall on Sunday afternoon.

Donning white singlets for the first time this season, the Nittany Lions were victorious in eight of the 10 bouts on Sunday afternoon. The dynamic duo of Zain Retherford (149 pounds) and Jason Nolf (157 pounds) notched a pin and technical fall during back-to-back matches to help fuel the Lions to another dominant performance.

Head into the media room to hear from head coach Cael Sanderson, Nico Megaludis, Jordan Conaway and Zain Retherford following the match.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Flying Under the Radar Just Fine with Megaludis

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By Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Flying under the radar is sometimes tough to do in an individual sport like wrestling. Wrestling for Penn State, it is easy to get overshadowed with so many talented wrestlers on the team.

Having four wrestlers currently ranked No. 1 in their respective weight classes can take attention away from many deserving wrestlers, including senior Nico Megaludis. While this could disappoint many athletes, the fourth-ranked wrestler at 125 pounds does not pay attention about how much people are talking about him and his success, because he focuses on what he's doing.

"I don't really care about the attention part or whatever. It doesn't matter. I know what I am going to do and I know what's going to be done. It doesn't really matter. As far as them [Nolf, Nickal] they are doing what they are supposed to do."

Early in the season, Megaludis suffered his only loss of the season, a 4-3-tiebreaker defeat to No. 3 Joey Dance of Virginia Tech. The senior says how losing that match was actually a good thing for him, as he refocused and noticed some of the flaws in his game as he was still working to get back in the everyday routine after redshirting last season. Megaludis cites how it was a completely different time earlier in the season for him and now, he feels that he's where he should be.

"It's gotten a lot better," said Megaludis. "The first quarter was a little slow and the second quarter has gone great. I'm taking my time a little bit more. I feel just like I belong out there and it's going well."

After competing at 125 for his first three seasons on campus, Megaludis redshirted last season, taking a step back from his game to work on a few things. The three-time All-American, including twice finishing as the NCAA Finalist, struggled to find his rhythm early this season. While he was still winning matches, the Murrysville, Pa., native didn't feel like he was back to his old self until just about midway through the season.

"After the Wisconsin match, I wrestled better in the dual meets," said Megaludis. "I wrestled good at the Southern Scuffle. I think it started around then. It's different being different out in a seven-minute match compared to freestyle. It's a little but different, but I feel fine."

One of the many highlights for this decorated wrestler this season was capturing the 125-crown at the Southern Scuffle. This was extra special for the senior because of his love for tournaments and the atmosphere that is associated with them.

"I absolutely love dual meets, but tournaments are fun because you get four or five matches and you have to keep on getting ready whether its every hour or five hours, so it's cool. Two day tournaments is what Big Ten's are and NCAAs is even better because it's three days, so that's pretty cool," said Megaludis.

With most matches starting at 125, Megaludis' opening bout can be viewed as the tone setter, which is an added pressure that can get in the heads of some wrestlers. For the senior, he doesn't let any extracurricular distractions affect his concentration, as he just try's to wrestle a relentless style. The Murrysville, Pa. native says he doesn't even focus on winning, instead having his goal of just wrestling to the best of his ability.

Head coach Cael Sanderson preaches an aggressive wrestling style to his team, and one of the best poster children for this mentality is Megaludis. This approach did not originate once he stepped foot at Penn State, but instead started at an early age as the senior states how he's always been a hard-nosed wrestler.

"I've always liked to score a lot of points and try and hand fight and make my opponents not like wrestling me, but obviously I have gotten better at it here no question about it," said Megaludis. "A lot of it stems back to Young Guns Wrestling Club with Jody and John Strittmatter. They definitely helped a lot and preached that style to me. My dad has had a lot of influence too, but here it's even gotten a lot better."

Currently, the 125-pounder is enjoying a 19-match win streak, knocking off four ranked wrestlers during that stretch. The biggest difference in Megaludis' game this season is his ability to finish shots, having a higher success rate compared to his first three seasons.

"I've scored 95 percent whenever I get in," said Megaludis. "I've learned some stuff to get out of a whizzer. My shot finishes have been a lot better and maybe in years past, they were at 75 or 80 percent and now they are probably 95 percent."

With March quickly approaching and the matches only getting more important as the calendar turns, Megaludis describes how he feeds off of his teammates success, which in turn fuels him to win even more.  

"This is a special team," said Megaludis. "When you are out on the mat, it's for you, but you also want to copy the team too because we all have different styles, but it's all the same focus: to go out an make your opponent hate wrestling you and just putting up a lot of points."  

VIDEO: This Week In Penn State Wrestling - Nico Megaludis (1/27/16)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team (11-0, 6-0 Big Ten) returns to Rec Hall on Sunday for a 2 p.m. bout against No. 10 Michigan (9-1, 4-0 Big Ten).

GoPSUsports.com caught up with senior Nico Megaludis this week to talk about his season to date. Megaludis is 20-1 on the season and ranked No. 4 at 125 pounds.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Finishing Shots the Difference for McCutcheon

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By Ryan Hickey, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The goal of every wrestler is to finish. Finish their match strong. Finish practice strong. Finish their workouts strong.

For sophomore Matt McCutcheon, finishing his shots has been a work in progress since the first day he stepped on campus. And for all of the hard work he has put in during practice, it came to fruition last weekend to the joy of McCutcheon and his coaches, as well.

Finishing was the theme during last Friday's match for McCutcheon and head coach Cael Sanderson has noticed the work McCutcheon has put in to work on finishing his shots.

"[Matt]'s been working on finishing his shots since he got here," said Sanderson. "That's been an issue as a redshirt and even last year getting in on legs, he would have a nice shot but wouldn't finish."

While Sanderson believes that the sophomore made it harder for himself than he needed to against Nebraska's TJ Dudley, he was happy with the way McCutcheon fought back to stand victorious at the end of the night.

"He did a nice job finishing when he really had to. I think he could have finished better a couple times throughout that match when he didn't have to put himself in a position where he was down like that," said Sanderson.

McCutcheon, looking back on last weekend's matches, knew he had a big weekend coming up and is excited about the increase in talent he will be facing down the stretch.

"I knew I had some good matches going in so it was an exciting weekend for me and always looking forward to wrestling the better guys," said McCutcheon. 

Despite going 2-0 on the weekend, including a thrilling, last second upset win over Dudley on Friday night, McCutcheon is still not satisfied at where he is at.

"I gotta find some things I have to improve on and work from there in practice the rest of the week," said McCutcheon.

One of the biggest areas that the sophomore has been working on has been trying to finish his shots.

"One big thing is finishing shots. That was important in my match. I let him scoot the corner on me a couple of times so I had to get back to basics when finishing a shot," said McCutcheon.

Another area McCutcheon has really focused on is riding his opponent tougher. These are the areas, McCutcheon says, if he can shore up now, they won't turn into bigger problems later in the season, which could ultimately be the difference in a win or a loss. 

After missing a couple weeks with back spasms, McCutcheon can gain confidence from these past matches, but moving forward, he still isn't satisfied with how the matches played out.

"It's definitely a confidence builder but at the same time, there were a lot of things that I did wrong in the match and things I need to learn from," said McCutcheon.

The confidence that McCutcheon is gaining isn't going unnoticed, as Sanderson see's the progress the sophomore has been making and is happy where he is at this point in the season.

"Matt's wrestling really well this year. He's confident and he's aggressive. He's looking good and looking strong, so we are real happy where he is right now."

The 184 pounder's key to figuring out his mistakes is by treating every match like a loss and examining his efforts through that perspective. By taking the good with the bad in every match, McCutcheon is able to learn and move on to the next match. The Apollo, Pa. native also has a short memory, putting each match in the past and only moving forward with the the areas where he can improve in. This is a strategy that McCutcheon believes helps him to focus more on the small details.

The Nittany Lions, holding the No. 1 rank since the start, have been wrestling well all season but McCutcheon, just like his teammates, believes that there is always room for improvement, a mindset that keeps the team hungry.

"I think that one thing with our team is that we are always looking to improve and we are supposed to be at our best by the time Nationals come around, so we have a lot of time left to keep getting better on the little things," said McCutcheon.

With three potential top 10 matchups in the upcoming weeks, McCutcheon believes that the coaching staff does a great job of keeping the team motivated through the constant message of improvement and never being satisfied.

"I think our coaching staff is great at picking out the things that each person needs to improve on," said McCutcheon. "I think that we are solid right now, but there's always room for improvement."

VIDEO: This Week In Penn State Wrestling - Matt McCutcheon (1/21/16)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lion wrestling team (10-0, 5-0 Big Ten) travels to No. 8 Illinois (9-3, 1-3 Big Ten) for its lone match this weekend. The Lions and Fighting Illini will collide at 4 p.m. on Saturday (BTN).

GoPSUsports.com caught up with sophomore Matt McCutcheon this week to talk about his return to the mat against Nebraska and Northwestern. McCutcheon is 12-1 on the season and ranked No. 10 at 184 pounds.